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Most of Europe’s drinking water and a significant proportion of water used in irrigation come from groundwater. A European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing, published today on World Water Day, provides a European overview of this key resource that is under increasing pressure from pollution, abstraction and climate change.
The EEA briefing ‘Europe’s groundwater — a key resource under pressure' provides an overview of the state of groundwater in the European Union (EU). The briefing is published on the World Water Day 2022, with the theme ‘Groundwater: making the invisible visible’.
In the EU, groundwater supplies 65% of drinking water and 25% of water for agricultural irrigation. However, according to the latest EEA data, about a quarter of the total groundwater body area in the EU is in poor chemical status and 9% in poor quantitative status. Considering both poor chemical and quantitative status, about 29% of the EU’s groundwater body area lacks capacity to meet the needs of ecosystems and people, the EEA briefing states.
The main reason for poor chemical status in EU groundwater is diffuse pollution from agriculture, most commonly nitrates and pesticides. Reasons for poor quantitative status mainly arise from excessive abstraction for irrigation, especially in southern Europe. Over-abstraction of coastal freshwater aquifers may also result in saline intrusion from seawater, which can make groundwater unusable for decades or increase the cost of treatment, the EEA briefing warns. Climate change is expected worsen these problems as demand for irrigation increases in Europe.
The European Green Deal has reiterated the need to manage water resources sustainably and tackle chemical pollution and water stress, to ensure sufficient, good-quality water for the environment and people. Reducing the pressures from agriculture and public water supply are key, according to the EEA briefing, but new approaches are also needed, including the use of information technology, financing, and the enforcement of circularity in the use of groundwater.